Content warning: This article includes references to sexual assault.
The University must release documents related to its investigation of six prior allegations of sexual assault involving students, according to an order from the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island on Thursday. The records in question are protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
The order is the latest filing in the 2022 case Smith v. Brown University, in which a student-athlete under the pseudonym of “David Smith” alleged that he was unfairly suspended after an allegedly biased Title IX investigation of a sexual assault claim made against him in 2021, The Herald previously reported.
The court order follows an Aug. 8 motion by the plaintiff compelling the University to provide the documents. The University previously provided the plaintiff with public records and a chart disclosing the gender identities of involved parties, as well as charges, sanctions and outcomes of appeals for the 2017-18 academic year.
According to the order, Smith “persuasively” claimed that the information provided by the University “is insufficient to investigate whether a pattern of bias exists or whether any females at Brown are similarly situated for the purposes of establishing appropriate comparators.”
Under FERPA, students over the age of 18 are protected from having their educational records or any personally identifiable information made public without their consent. According to the court’s order, the material requested by Smith is relevant to the case “and can be disclosed in compliance with FERPA.”
According to the order, the University argued that documents, even when redacted, pose “a risk to third parties given the detail and amount of information that is likely to be in these files.”
But the court pointed to FERPA’s litigation exception clause, which allows the disclosure of educational records without the previous consent of the involved parties “if disclosure is pursuant to a judicial order” and if the University, in this case, “make(s) a reasonable effort to notice the parent or student in advance so they may seek a protective order.”
“Mr. Smith is entitled to explore Brown’s decision-making process without having to guess at what is behind the curtain,” the document reads.
“Despite the University’s objection regarding the privacy interests of non-parties to the litigation, the court is requiring Brown to disclose a set of redacted records under FERPA’s litigation exception,” University Spokesperson Brian Clark wrote in an email to The Herald. “The next step is for Brown to notify the students identified in these records that their redacted records have been requested, to give them an opportunity to object directly to the court.”
The court’s order is subject to an agreement that “lays out the timing of notice under FERPA, additional time required for the University to comply with redaction, proposed language for third-party notice” and procedures for third parties to file protective orders.
Attorneys for both parties did not respond to requests for comment.
Julia Vaz is a Metro editor covering the environment and crime and justice beats. She is a sophomore from Brazil studying Political Science and Literary Arts.
Neil Mehta is a University News section editor and design chief at The Herald. They study public health and statistics at Brown. Outside the office, you can find Neil baking and playing Tetris.